What to do for Frozen RV Pipes

Winter is upon us. Many RVers prefer to head to warmer climates to wait out the freezing temperatures, for good reason. RVs can oftentimes be drafty and not well-equipped for below-freezing temperatures. One of the biggest risks of using an RV in the wintertime is frozen pipes. When pipes freeze, RVers are not able to use their sinks, take a shower, or access their water. Sometimes frozen pipes can even result in serious damage to an RV’s water lines. Thankfully, there are a few tips and tricks that can help you unfreeze your pipes as quickly as possible. Below us a guide to help you handle this tricky situation. 

How to Unfreeze Your Pipes

If you have encountered frozen pipes, fear not. The first step is to check for any cracked pipes. Some RVs utilize copper or metal piping, while others use plastic. Unfortunately, both can be cracked when frozen. Carefully check your exterior water lines for any signs of cracks before you try to thaw. 

1) Heater

A portable propane heater or space heater with an extension cord can be used to thaw your pipes. If using this method, it is absolutely essential that you stay outside and monitor a portable propane heater. These can catch parts of the undercarriage on fire if left unattended for long periods of time. Use your heater to begin warming up sections of the pipes. If your RV has plastic or PVC piping on the exterior, do not put the heater too close. Enough constant, high-temperature heat could cause damage to the pipes.

2) Heat Tape

Heat tape can be one of the safest and most effective ways to thaw your frozen pipes. Though, it is absolutely essential that your pipes are not cracked before using heat tape. Kits can be purchased online or from hardware stores. Heat tape is actually a wire that wraps around your pipe to slowly thaw it. A slower method of unfreezing can actually be better for your pipes in the long run by causing less wear and tear. If your pipes are PVC or plastic, be sure to purchase pipe heat tape with an automatic thermostat. This will allow more temperature control to avoid damaging your pipes. 

3) Heat Gun or Hair Dryer

Another method to safely thaw your pipes is to use a heat gun or hair dryer. A heat gun is best used on copper or metal pipes. A hair dryer can be used on either copper, metal, or PVC pipes. Take care not to leave the heat in one area for too long with PVC pipes, as this can cause damage or melting. Simply take the heat gun or hair dryer and slowly move it back and forth over the two frozen points. Please be careful when using a hair dryer in wet conditions, such as snow or ice.

4) Call a Plumber

If all else fails or thawing the pipes feels too overwhelming, consider calling in an expert. A plumber can safely assess your pipes and determine the best method for thawing them. They may even be able to repair any cracked pipes for you. A professional plumber can have water flowing in your RV in no time at all!

How to Prevent Your Pipes From Freezing

The best practice here is to do your best to ensure your pipes never freeze in the first place. This can involve several steps, additional purchases, and examining some of the components of your RV. As stated above, frozen pipes can burst or cause damage to your water system. You can save a lot of money in the long run by taking a few precautions to prevent your pipes from freezing. 

Winterize Your RV

This step isn’t practical if you’re living in your RV in a cold climate, but it may be doable for short winter trips. If your RV is receiving limited use or no use at all during the winter months, it’s absolutely crucial that you winterize. This is the only true way to prevent your pipes from freezing, no matter how cold the temperatures, while ensuring maximum longevity of your RV’s water system. If you’ve never winterized your RV before, check out our handy blog post detailing the process. 

Upgrade Your Insulation

If you intend to use your RV in a cold climate, your best bet is to check your insulation. RVs, especially trailers, have a lot of air flowing underneath. RVers can either manually add insulation – even wrapping towels around your pipes can sometimes help. There is also insulated skirting that can be purchased and put on the outside of your RV to assist in keeping the pipes warm. These are available for most types of RVs. 

Other Considerations

Heated Water Hose

While this may not prevent your pipes from freezing, it will prevent your water hose from freezing. Some RVers fill their tank and then disconnect their hose to prevent freezing. If you intend to be in your spot for quite some time, this can create additional work by needing to go out and hook your hose up again, fill, and repeat when you have run out of water. A heated water hose can come in handy. Be sure to purchase one to use for drinking water. 

Electric Tank Heater

An electric tank heater can prevent your holding tanks from suffering damage due to lower temperatures. This device is like a heating pad for your holding tanks. There are different sizes for larger or smaller tank sizes. This ensures that you can fill your tanks and not worry about freezing or bursting. 

With some future planning, it’s possible to ensure your RV’s pipes don’t freeze at all. Despite your best efforts, sometimes the temperatures become too cold to prevent freezing. Be sure to keep this list handy if you end up camping in some cold areas this winter.

Have your RV’s pipes ever frozen? How did you fix the issue? Where is the coldest place you’ve ever camped? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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